Lex Actions.

When an expression written as above is matched, Lex executes the corresponding action. This section describes some features of Lex which aid in writing actions. Note that there is a default action, which consists of copying the input to the output. This is performed on all strings not otherwise matched. Thus the Lex user who wishes to absorb the entire input, without producing any output, must provide rules to match everything. When Lex is being used with Yacc, this is the normal situation. One may consider that actions are what is done instead of copying the input to the output; thus, in general, a rule which merely copies can be omitted. Also, a character combination which is omitted from the rules and which appears as input is likely to be printed on the output, thus calling attention to the gap in the rules.

One of the simplest things that can be done is to ignore the input. Specifying a C null statement, ; as an action causes this result. A frequent rule is

[ \t\n]	;
which causes the three spacing characters (blank, tab, and newline) to be ignored.

Another easy way to avoid writing actions is the action character |, which indicates that the action for this rule is the action for the next rule. The previous example could also have been written

" "		|
"\t"		|
"\n"		;
with the same result, although in different style. The quotes around \n and \t are not required.

In more complex actions, the user will often want to know the actual text that matched some expression like [a-z]+ . Lex leaves this text in an external character array named yytext. Thus, to print the name found, a rule like

[a-z]+	printf("%s", yytext);
will print the string in yytext. The C function printf accepts a format argument and data to be printed; in this case, the format is ``print string'' (% indicating data conversion, and s indicating string type), and the data are the characters in yytext. So this just places the matched string on the output. This action is so common that it may be written as ECHO:
[a-z]+	ECHO;
is the same as the above. Since the default action is just to print the characters found, one might ask why give a rule, like this one, which merely specifies the default action? Such rules are often required to avoid matching some other rule which is not desired. For example, if there is a rule which matches read it will normally match the instances of read contained in bread or readjust ; to avoid this, a rule of the form [a-z]+ is needed. This is explained further below.

Sometimes it is more convenient to know the end of what has been found; hence Lex also provides a count yyleng of the number of characters matched. To count both the number of words and the number of characters in words in the input, the user might write

[a-zA-Z]+	{words++; chars += yyleng;}
which accumulates in chars the number of characters in the words recognized. The last character in the string matched can be accessed by

Occasionally, a Lex action may decide that a rule has not recognized the correct span of characters. Two routines are provided to aid with this situation. First, yymore() can be called to indicate that the next input expression recognized is to be tacked on to the end of this input. Normally, the next input string would overwrite the current entry in yytext. Second, yyless (n) may be called to indicate that not all the characters matched by the currently successful expression are wanted right now. The argument n indicates the number of characters in yytext to be retained. Further characters previously matched are returned to the input. This provides the same sort of look~ahead offered by the / operator, but in a different form.

Example: Consider a language which defines a string as a set of characters between quotation (") marks, and provides that to include a " in a string it must be preceded by a \. The regular expression which matches that is somewhat confusing, so that it might be preferable to write

\"[^"]*	{
	if (yytext[yyleng-1] == '\\')
	     ... normal user processing
which will, when faced with a string such as "abc\"def" first match the five characters "abc\; then the call to yymore() will cause the next part of the string, "def, to be tacked on the end. Note that the final quote terminating the string should be picked up in the code labeled ``normal processing''.

The function yyless() might be used to reprocess text in various circumstances. Consider the C problem of distinguishing the ambiguity of ``=-a''. Suppose it is desired to treat this as ``=- a'' but print a message. A rule might be

=-[a-zA-Z]	{
	printf("Operator (=-) ambiguous\n");
	... action for =- ...
which prints a message, returns the letter after the operator to the input stream, and treats the operator as ``=-''. Alternatively it might be desired to treat this as ``= -a''. To do this, just return the minus sign as well as the letter to the input:
=-[a-zA-Z]	{
	printf("Operator (=-) ambiguous\n");
	... action for = ...
will perform the other interpretation. Note that the expressions for the two cases might more easily be written
in the first case and
in the second; no backup would be required in the rule action. It is not necessary to recognize the whole identifier to observe the ambiguity. The possibility of ``=-3'', however, makes
=-/[^ \t\n]
a still better rule.

In addition to these routines, Lex also permits access to the I/O routines it uses. They are:

1) input() which returns the next input character;

2) output(c) which writes the character c on the output; and

3) unput(c) pushes the character c back onto the input stream to be read later by input().

By default these routines are provided as macro definitions, but the user can override them and supply private versions. These routines define the relationship between external files and internal characters, and must all be retained or modified consistently. They may be redefined, to cause input or output to be transmitted to or from strange places, including other programs or internal memory; but the character set used must be consistent in all routines; a value of zero returned by input must mean end of file; and the relationship between unput and input must be retained or the Lex look~ahead will not work. Lex does not look ahead at all if it does not have to, but every rule ending in + * ? or $ or containing / implies look~ahead. Look~ahead is also necessary to match an expression that is a prefix of another expression. See below for a discussion of the character set used by Lex. The standard Lex library imposes a 100 character limit on backup.

Another Lex library routine that the user will sometimes want to redefine is yywrap() which is called whenever Lex reaches an end-of-file. If yywrap returns a 1, Lex continues with the normal wrapup on end of input. Sometimes, however, it is convenient to arrange for more input to arrive from a new source. In this case, the user should provide a yywrap which arranges for new input and returns 0. This instructs Lex to continue processing. The default yywrap always returns 1.

This routine is also a convenient place to print tables, summaries, etc. at the end of a program. Note that it is not possible to write a normal rule which recognizes end-of-file; the only access to this condition is through yywrap. In fact, unless a private version of input() is supplied a file containing nulls cannot be handled, since a value of 0 returned by input is taken to be end-of-file.